Tears trickled down Kisha’s stinging cheeks and blood from her mouth as she looked at her accusers. Maia’s black and gray hair had come unwound from under her head cloth and her face flush with emotion. Anger blazed in her black eyes and it was not a pleasant sight.
“Stop!” Their chief, Morcorno stepped into the fray. He stood tall, with broad shoulders and a gray speckled beard. He wore a turban to protect his perfectly bald head from the sun and his gray-green eyes glowed from within his sunburnt skin. “Gof Corvan your family causes delay.” He looked at the young bride and the two older women and then at Kisha’s husband. “It would not do to let these women travel together. Let us hold a council.” he shouted over his shoulder “Makim, my son, set up a tent for council.”
Gof went to his wife’s side and his mother and grandmother glared at him. He did not say a word. One of the other older women in the clan took Grandma Seilee and Maia away to another wagon. Kisha looked at the camp through the tears and saw all the faces turned toward her, even Jasmine’s. When Kisha’s eyes met hers, Jasmine’s eyes lowered quickly to the ground. Kisha had only been with this clan since her wedding day less than two years ago and did not know how they dealt with criminals, criminals like her. Fresh tears spilled from her eyes and her husband guided her to their wagon. He opened the door to the dark interior and she shook her head. So did she hate traveling in that vehicle, that even now she would rather face the stares of her neighbors than spend one more minute in the torture chamber.
They waited outside, squatting on the ground, and as they did so, the various harsh and hideous sentences that might be passed on her flowed through her mind. Kisha chewed on the hem of her dress at the neckline; something she had not done since she was a child.
Once they erected the counsel tent, Chief Morcorno called Maia in. At first it was not a quiet meeting, Maia’s strident shouts of “Kisha”, “Ungrateful”, and “Lazy” echoed throughout the camp. Eventually, her mother-in-law ran out of steam or their leader succeeded in calming her down. The session went on for quite a time before Maia reappeared at the tent opening and Grandma Seilee entered.
The old woman’s conversation with Chief Morcorno was both quieter and quicker. Finally, the old woman left the tent and one of the chief’s sons beckoned towards them. Kisha stood up but the man shook his head and firmly pointed to Gof. She sat back down in the dust and waited.
Her husband entered the tent. Grandma Seilee and Maia had gone inside another family’s carriage. Some families had opened their wagons to let in fresh air and a few women shook out the drapes and bench coverings. Kisha watched them and wished she had married into a family that lived like that. Instead, Grandma Seilee liked the dark and the “settled air” as she called it, of the wagon. Kisha mused that at least if they were to kill her she wouldn’t have to sit in the “settled air” again. But she wept for she did not want to die.
Finally, her husband came outside the tent and called her in. His face looked grave and serious. She rose, shook the worst of the dirt from her dress and walked over. Inside the tent she found Chief Morcorno sitting on a pillow on a rug with his sons and his own grandmother flanking him. A service of coffee lay before him on a pewter tray.
“Kisha, please sit.” She obeyed and sat at the spot suggested directly in front of the chief and his family. She waited, looking only at the intricately woven carpet through tear-filled eyes. “This is a grave crime you have committed in our clan. A daughter-in-law’s duty is to help, not steal, from her new mother. Maia has complained to me before that you do not help enough with family duties and she fears you will be an incompetent mother once the children start coming.”
Kisha had heard all this before but had not known her mother-in-law had formally complained to the chief. She sighed and new tears formed and flowed down her face.
Chief Morcorno sighed. “However, your husband has only praise for you. He does not wish another wife and feels your life has been difficult with your new mother and grandmother.” He poured thick coffee into the small metal cup and took a sip. “I have known both women all my life and I know they are not compromising. While it has served this clan well, I have no doubt they are difficult traveling companions.” Here he paused and took another drink of his coffee. After he laid the cup back on the tray, he resumed.
“Maia is angry and yells for vengeance. She even asked for your life at one point. Grandma Seilee thinks you should be returned to your own clan. You and I know that that would leave you with a bleak life as an outcast.” He was quiet and she looked up from the rug for the first time. Chief Morcorno’s face had an odd look to it. “However, Kisha, you are not married to Grandma Seilee or to Maia. You are married to Gof and it is his life you are tied to and on this journey of marriage, yours is just beginning. So, I will not kill you myself, especially over a silly scarf, and I definitely will not send you back to your family. However, I cannot do nothing, you understand?” Kisha nodded.
“Kisha if I send you to another family’s wagon it may cause ill will for them. As you know Grandma Seilee does not forgive injustices or slights and I think she would hold that against any family that took you into their transport. So, I and your husband, Gof, have decided to reinstate an old punishment.” Kisha’s heart skipped a beat. Now she would learn what harsh treatment she would have to endure.
“Kisha, for stealing your mother-in-law’s special blue scarf I sentence you to not ride in any wagon from here to Pinkmar’s Lagoon. That is more than 200 miles or ten days away. You are to walk or run on foot the entire way.” She watched his face and waited. “I will alert old Herbert at the back. He looks out for stragglers, so you will stay protected and part of the clan, but you shall no longer have the privilege of riding in a wagon.”
Kisha said nothing, she waited to hear the worst of her sentence. Instead, the Chief prompted her. “You should be thankful, Kisha. Your husband will have to endure this punishment as well. True, he will not run alongside you, but all who see us and our caravan will remember this punishment and will know that his wife has taken the Doe’s Place, as we call it.” Kisha bowed and thanked him and then bowed to Gof and thanked him. Her spouse looked grave and worried. She repeated her thanks and her bows and they left the tent.
Once outside, Gof turned to her. His soft brown eyes ran over her body and he said. “You cannot run on this rough ground in those soft traveling slippers.” He reached into the wagon and brought out her leather shoes she wore in the mountains. “Wear these.” She nodded. The men behind her began taking down the tent as Chief Morcorno and his entourage made their way to the head of the caravan. Kisha sat on the edge of the wagon and put on the shoes, then repacked her slippers inside her box.
Then she stood watching her husband see to their animals and wagon. He checked and rechecked straps and wheels. His eyes met hers for an instance when he came around the back.
“This will be hard, do not spend all your energy trying to keep up with my wagon. Stay with Old Herbert, he is both kind and wise.” His eyes were full of concern. She nodded.
“I will try to keep up, Gof.” He gave a nod and went to fill another livestock container with water from the spring.
A hand on her arm gave her a start. It was Grandma Kira, the oldest woman in the clan. She did not speak but pulled a little fabric on Kisha’s sleeve. She obeyed and followed the woman. They walked passed the livestock and wagons and into the desert to the latrine pit. Instead of taking her inside the sun-bleached shed, the old woman took her behind it. Once out of sight from the others, she withdrew a roll of cloth bandages.
“Kisha, the Doe’s Place is hard on a woman. It can make her bleed.” she whispered hoarsely. “You must wear this.” She thrust the roll at the young woman. Kisha took it and looked questioningly at the ancient eyes. The arthritic hand made a motion in front of her chest. “Wound it around your breasts.” And her head nodded as her hand repeated the motion.
Kisha understood. She glanced around and then took off her dress. Grandma Kira helped her and together they smashed Kisha’s soft mounds under layers of bandages. Kisha thanked her and they hurried back to the caravan. By the time they returned the horses, camels, donkeys, and mules were ready to move.
The starting call came across, louder than she’d ever heard it and the wagons, carriages, and animals began to move forward. Maia, Grandma Seilee, and Jasmine must have already entered their carriage. She waited until she heard Gof call to his team and they started along. Kisha began moving her legs. At first she walked fast, but as the beasts picked up speed, she broke into a jog.
Unfortunately for Kisha, Chief Morocono was known for speed. His caravans traveled this time of year at a brisk pace. It was not long before the animals were slowly trotting. Kisha ran harder to stay with her husband’s wagon. The North/South Road led away from the oasis sloped up a low-lying hill. Try as she might, the young woman could not maintain her stride on the incline. Her harsh breathing scratched her throat and sweat dampened her clothes. Wagon after wagon passed her on the road. The dust kicked up from their wheels blasted her eyes and sent her into fits of coughing. Finally, she stopped and walked to catch her breath. Now, more neighbors passed her up until she heard Old Herbert’s flock of goats coming up from behind.
“You can’t walk all the way, Kisha.” He called. She started up again, running as fast as she could, holding up her long skirts, until she heard him calling from behind. “Kisha!” She stopped and looked back. The old, grizzled man perched high up on his favorite camel, Esmerelda, like an olive on a dollop of humus. “You can’t run all that way, either. Look at the goats!” He gestured with his long flexible whip towards his flock of tricolor goats. “You don’t see them racing about and they make it in every night! Move like the goats!” She looked at him and nodded but she wasn’t sure what he meant. To keep up with Old Herbert she turned and ran, but this time, not as fast. Within a half hour, her legs complained and the bottom of her feet burned but something had changed.
Kisha looked up and did not see the caravan anywhere in sight. She glanced back at old Herbert but he was snapping a nanny goat back into the flock. Her mind searched for the caravan and as it did, she realized what was missing. The dust. True, the goats kicked up small clouds about her feet but if she followed to the side the air was clear and fresh.
Kisha breathed in as deeply as she could. With the panting this was hard to do, but when she finally inhaled and filled her chest she smiled.
The wind rose, at first it steadily blew from the left, the whipping her hair and clothes about, so that twice she almost tripped over her long skirts. So, using a bit of yarn, she tied her skirt again in two bunches to leave her legs free to move; it still hung long in the back.
Kisha could not keep pace with the goats, though. They were tough, seasoned animals that had traveled since they were kids. She stopped and walked briskly until Old Herbert said something or she found some strength. All day she ran or walked along the road, along side the goats. Near midday the old goat herder called out sharply to her. She stopped. He slapped his forehead, muttered an oath, and sprang lightly from his camel. He ran to one of his pack camels and came bearing a goatskin water jug. Kisha’s cracked lips formed a smile as he handed her the drink.
The sun-warmed water tasted of old leather and she loved it. While she had drank deeply, his brown eyes watched her and he did something remarkable.
“I am sorry, little Kisha. I forgot to give you water for your journey, please forgive me.” Kisha marveled. No one had ever asked her for forgiveness.
“It is all right Herbert, you gave me water now, when I most needed it.” She handed the skin back to him but he shook his head.
“You carry it, like a man. Across your.” At this he blushed and turned away. She saw there was a strap and slung it across her chest as she had seen Gof do a thousand times. It dangled long on the side, so she added another knot to the strap, until it sat in her back, like her husband’s did. By the time she finished this, Old Herbert was back in on his beloved Esmerelda and urging the goats to continue down the road.
The water and the little rest gave energy to Kisha and she began to run again. The old man with his three camels, a herd of goats, and a running girl moved across the barren, parched earth. No hill, mountain or river could be seen for miles and miles under the pure blue sky. She ran for hours until her stomach complained louder than her legs. About this time, Old Herbert came to her rescue once again. He halted the procession and bade her sit in the shade of one of his camels. She did so, and he gave her meat wrapped in bread and a handful of nuts while he refilled her water skin. While he was on the other side, she rubbed her legs as she ate. Her burning feet longed to be free of the leather boots, but she dare not take them off. Soon they formed their odd parade across the desert.
The afternoon seemed shorter and in only a few hours, or so the sky darkened. Without mountains, the twilight is short and evening falls quickly. Soon, Kisha stumbled along in the dark. She fell twice, each time, she had been searching the horizon for lights of the camp and not looking where she was going. She got up quickly and kept moving. She forced herself to jog but her legs shook with the effort. It was not just that she wanted to be with her spouse, but that there were creatures in the night out here, foxes, wild cats, and bats. Those did not worry her as much as the monsters. Tales of trolls, sand serpents, and harpies filled her mind and drove her on. The elderly man riding the camels did not bring much comfort to her. Kisha could not imagine Old Herbert deftly fighting off a winged harpie from her; for it was known those evil creatures preferred women flesh to goat or camel.
Tears trickled down her face as they crested a low hill and she saw only darkness ahead. She sobbed but pressed on. The slope down into a shallow valley gave her some reprieve but it also fed her fears, for now she passed in and out of shadows of the moon. She tried to watch her footing and the sky for harpies at the same time. She looked back at old Herbert and saw that he too watched the sky; her terror grew and drove her on. Kisha tried to lengthen her stride, at least on the downhills but the uphill challenged her strength. On a particularly steep grade, she stopped and walked and wept. When she crested the hill, she saw the clan camped down below. Cheery fires dotted the landscape and men and women sat talking or milling about. She laughed and began to run down the hill towards the camp. The goats too seemed eager to arrive at camp and joined her. As they drew near a man’s outline appeared and she saw it was her husband.
“Gof!” She shouted and ran to his arms. He didn’t just hug her, he picked her up and put his strong arms under her legs. She buried her face in his neck and wept.
“You did it, Kisha! You did it. You ran all the way.” he whispered. He would have carried her back to camp but she protested.
“No, Gof, I must walk in on my own two legs.” And he walked with her to the wagon. When they got there, Grandma Seilee and Maia scowled at her from by the fire, but all Kisha saw was the stewpot sat on a rock to one side and she served herself as much as she could fit in her bowl. She took her usual spot next to Gof and began inhaling the food. She couldn’t recall being so hungry in her life. As she ate, neighbors passed by in the background. While one or two might do so on their way to a latrine or to check on the animals, now everyone it seemed had business at this end of the camp this night. Gof sat quietly next to her and watched her eat.
Finally, Grandma Seilee spoke. “You’re late and your dress is a mess! Look at the stains. You’ll have to wash that one yourself!” Kisha heard the familiar criticisms and mentally shrugged. She and Jasmine washed all the linen anyway, so Grandma Seilee’s threat did not hold much. The young woman was just glad just to sit and eat and no longer run or jog. She drank deeply from her skin and Grandma Seilee complained.
“Where’d you get that skin? You’re not supposed to have that! Gof, did you give that to her? I will speak to the chief right now. This is a punishment!”
At that moment, Jasmine approached the fire from the dark and gave Kisha a sweet smile. “You made it! And in time for supper.”
To this Grandma Seilee yelled “She’s late!” But Jasmine ignored her. After Kisha finished the dinner and everything in the pot, she rose to wash it out. Jasmine jumped up and took the pot from her without a word. Gof stood as well and put a hand on his wife’s shoulder.
“She has to do the washing up!” Snapped Grandma Seilee.
Maia added “And packing.”
Gof spoke, he only said one word but it was enough that night. “No.”
Kisha could not believe her ears. Her husband guided her to their tent and inside. Once within he helped her take her soiled clothes off and even her stiff boots. Then he took a towel and washed her from head to toe from a basin of soapy water. At first she protested with her hands but he took both of them in his and kissed them. Then he continued removing the dust and sweat from her body, helped her put her night-gown on and tucked her into bed. Kisha fell asleep almost instantly.
Story Continues with The Runner: The Second Day